Finding My Rhythm

By Tania Karas, H.S. Student, Illinois

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a dancer. As a child, there was nothing I loved more than tiptoeing through the house, my arms high above my head like a ballerina. I dressed up in a tutu and tiara for countless Halloweens. One year, I even stubbornly went trick-or-treating in my ballet slippers. I was constantly dancing to the music blaring loudly from the radio in our kitchen. I could never get enough of dancing.

Being a performer is something special-there is nothing quite like the adrenaline rush I receive when I'm dancing before a crowd. Years of dance lessons, gymnastics training, and cheerleading practice prepared me to try out for my high school Poms team.

When I made the Poms, I was ecstatic. I couldn't wait to be part of a team or to have all eyes on me as I danced with the other girls at football and basketball games. In addition to performing at halftime, my Poms team also competed in various competitions at the regional and state levels. I remember the anxiety I had the night before my first competition-nervous and excited all at the same time. But all of the dance training in the world could not have prepared me for what happened there. Little did I know that I would confront my first real difficulty with my hearing loss the next day.

The gym where the competition was held had a unique bowl-shaped design. The bleachers were positioned several feet above the basketball court, so that spectators had to look down to watch a game or performance. When the announcer called our team's name, I rushed out onto the dance floor and took my spot. The music began and I dove right into the dance routine, smiling from ear to ear and giving it my all. A few seconds into the routine, however, I noticed I was having trouble keeping track of the beat of the music. The bowl shape of the gym caused sound to reverberate and echo, distorting the sound quality of the music and causing me to feel off-beat. I watched my teammates out of the corner of my eye, however, and was able to complete the routine without any major mistakes.

The moment we left the dance floor, I burst into tears and refused to tell anyone what was wrong. Not even our first place award that day could lift my spirits. I felt that I had somehow failed myself. When our team captain finally coaxed me into telling her why I was so upset, I explained the situation as best as I could. As a hearing person, she couldn't fully understand my situation, but she comforted me by saying, "It's okay, we won first place. No one could even tell that you couldn't hear the music." Our win didn't even register in my mind. It wasn't okay. I hated the feeling of being unsure of what I was missing and being so susceptible to making a mistake. Once I dried my tears, I told myself that I wouldn't let that happen again.

In the following weeks at practice, I began to notice a few things. I first noticed that I barely paid attention to the actual song of our dance routine; I mostly just counted out the beat of the music in my head. Second, it was much easier for me to keep track of the beat when our coach counted out loud. If I lost track of the beat in my head, I would glance at her lips to read what count I was supposed to be on. I realized two important things: it was vital that I keep a steady count of the beat, and it was much easier to keep track of the music if I had some sort of visual cue.

With another big competition getting closer and closer, I had yet to tell my coach of my hardships at our last competition. I wanted to think of a solution myself before I bothered her with a problem. Finally, I thought of one based on my two observations. I approached my coach and explained the situation to her. I then proposed my solution: I asked if she could stand in the front row of a crowd during a performance of any kind and clap her hands to the beat of the music. This would allow me to see each beat and keep track of the music with my eyes.

My Poms coach was extremely supportive of this request. She began clapping her hands for me at practice, too, so that we could both get used to using this method. This was the first time I had advocated for myself at Poms; after this I was not shy about asking my coach to turn up the music or repeat instructions. Once I began advocating for myself more often, I was amazed at how much information I had allowed myself to miss in the past. I felt my dance technique improve because I was not afraid to ask for clarification or repetition in instructions. I felt infinitely more comfortable and content with my performance at competitions and halftime routines.

Advocating for myself at practice was probably the best thing I have ever done for myself. I realized that there is no good in sitting back and sulking about a problem. From this point on, I have jumped immediately from encountering a problem to finding a solution. I am no longer afraid to tell a teacher, coach, or classmate that I might need a slight change in the way they are doing something. People are usually very supportive and respectful of my wishes. Advocating for myself on a more frequent basis has ultimately allowed me to feel more comfortable with my hearing loss. I no longer view it as a barrier in my life; it is just another obstacle that there are a million ways around. All I have to do is find them.

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